Leadership Lessons: Mission First, People Always


528th USAAG

When I was in the U.S. Army, I deployed to Turkey in 1982. I was assigned to the 528th United States Army Artillery Group.  The commander of the unit had a saying that I’ve found helpful in my life since that deployment about 30 years ago.  He regularly said that one of the organizations chief values was, “Mission first, people always.” You’ve got to accomplish the mission or you’ve got to reach certain goals and standards. But, if you don’t care for the people, you’re not going to be able to accomplish the mission because it is through the people that the mission is accomplished. So, you’ve got to care about your people.

I’ve worked for people that did not have that philosophy of leadership. They were the type of people who would just chew people up and out. They lead by intimidation. It was all about accomplishing their goals. Subordinates had to be forced to do what they wanted done, no matter the cost. Those kinds of people weren’t enjoyable to work for. I remember one in particular that I was actually afraid of. I did everything to avoid that person because I knew he didn’t care about me as a person. He would readily sacrifice me to do what he wanted to get done.

After I left that assignment in Turkey, I thought I had applied the lesson of Mission First, People Always. But, I learned later I hadn’t done so. I was a whole lot more career driven than I was willing to admit. My unspoken mission was to be a success in my career. I share this to my shame and I believe I’ve now changed. But, we lived in Guatemala for a time. My wife and I started talking about maybe adopting a child there.  After I thought about it, I said that I believed it might hurt my career having a child that was so different from us. So, we didn’t adopt.  I grieve my attitude back then. But, clearly it was more about the mission (my career), than about people (a little child whom we could have helped greatly). My wife later graciously and lovingly confronted me on that attitude, which helped me in the process of change.

Career is important. You’ve got to make money in order to live. But, it is not and should not be more important that people. That’s what I love about Jesus. He loved people. He put them above his wants and desires. It was about people…always. I think that’s what John, the Beloved Apostle, who experienced the love of Jesus first hand meant when he said, John 3:16 (AMP) For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world (that’s people; you and I) that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life.

God always loves people; he puts them first by giving up his son for them. That’s a great example of how we should be.

I’ve been out of commission.

May 2013 was a very stressful time for our family. There were several health issues that popped up with family members thatImage we love very much. After that stressful time, I’ve not felt much like blogging. But, June has allowed me to recuperate. I’m ready to get back at it. 

At this point in my life, I’m a full time pastor/church planter. But, this hasn’t always been my vocation. I was a soldier in the U.S. Army for 22 years. No, I was not a chaplain. I was an Artilleryman or a “Redleg.” God called me into pastoring in my last years of serving my Lord while I served the country.  What I plan to do over the next several blog posts is take some leadership lessons I learned in my time in the Army and discuss how those lessons have worked out in the church world.

I will tell you. I’m not sure I would have been prepared for what I’m doing now without those 22 years of preparation in the Army. I’m thankful to God that he allowed me to grow and mature in him, before he called me into pastoral ministry.

I’ll publish my next blog post, “They’re not soldiers,” in the coming days. Until then, have a great Independence Day and always remember that “Freedom isn’t free.”


One Year: A Testimony

We are so grateful to have Rand as part of our family now. He and our daughter, Carolyn, married a year ago yesterday. He is a gifted writer, so I’m reposting a recent blog of his as a testimony to God’s faithfulness.

Are you good in a crisis?

Johnny Jackson ChurchillLife is full of crises. Most of them you probably are reacting to and are not the cause of; someone hits your car, a baby in the family gets really sick, a bomb blows up at the finish line of a marathon.  Most of those things you cannot prevent. You just have to deal with them.

How do you handle it when you’re confronted with a crisis? Now, you can freak out, scream, and run when you are faced with an emergency or you can react in a way that helps those around you through the situation too.  We certainly saw both reactions at the Boston Marathon bombing.

My dad was exceptionally good in a crisis. He didn’t lose his cool. He thought clearly and gave good direction or advice. He didn’t let the emotion of the moment get him. He focused on the task at hand…getting through the crisis as best as possible. He was a U.S. Army officer and had successfully dealt with crises.

The best way to do that is to process the steps you should take during a crisis when you are not in one. Emergency personnel have a checklist memorized as what to do first, second and third when confronted with an emergency. You can do the same thing too.

Take time alone to think it out. When you have some type of physical crisis, like a car accident, what are the first 10 things you should do? Make a list before it happens, so that when it does you’re ready. If you have an emotional crisis, like a close family member, you love very much, is going through some very difficult situation. What is the 5 things you want to do so you’ll be able to think clearly and support them.  What do you do in a spiritual crisis, like something has happened that you doubt God or your faith? Make a list.  What do you do? …Pray, seek God’s word to you in His Word, seek out trusted counselors etc.

I think Jesus was good in a crisis. During the torture before the cross and on the cross he was thinking about other people. He told John to physically care of Mary Jesus’ mother. He stopped to minister to emotional women who were crying because of the brutality. He cared spiritually for his torturers, which was evident when He asked God, the Father, to forgive them because they didn’t know what they were doing. Now obviously the cross was physically, emotionally and spiritually brutal, but Jesus had prepared as best as he could. I think the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane was part of that preparation. So, during the crisis he was able to stay composed and focus on others.

How do you take time to prepare for life’s crises? Please leave a comment and let us know.

Are You Smarter Than A Four-Year-Old?


I was reading the book, If You Have a Hat; a Silly Rhyming Picture Book, by Gerald Hawksley, to my four-year-old granddaughter, Logan.  It’s a book very similar to the Dr. Suess Cat in the Hat books that I read years ago. She listened attentively as I read the book.  As I read, I asked her, “Do you see how the words rhyme?”  She didn’t get it at first.  But, then I showed her how mouse rhymed with house and how race rhymed with face and she got it. Now, her brother, Brody, is only two and he just didn’t want to sit and listen. He certainly wasn’t at the point in his life where he’d understand what a rhyme was.

As I had time to reflect on reading the book to her, I realized it must be the same way with us as we read God’s Word and our Heavenly Father teaches us. If you’ve read God’s Word regularly, you know that sometimes you read the same verse on one occasion that you’ve read many times and all of a sudden something jumps out at you; a word or an idea, that you never got when reading that verse before. That’s God teaching you “how the words rhyme.” Rather, He’s showing you something that you didn’t get before in that verse; a new truth or insight that you didn’t understand before. Now, you’re at a point in your life when you can get it. Before, if He showed it to you, you just didn’t get it.

To me, that adds a whole new insight into Jesus’s words, Luke 18:17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” When you approach reading God’s Word you must realize that the creator of the universe, the all-knowing God is trying to teach you. In many ways it like a grandfather, with many more years of education and experience trying to teach a four-year-old. We’ve got to really pay attention to what He’s trying to say. He’s showing us how the “words rhyme,” so we can understand what He’s trying to say to us at the place and time we are right now in our lives.

When you approach God Word, the Bible, try listening like a four-year-old. Allow Him to teach you. Be open to hearing and learning and applying His Word to your life.

I’d love to hear what God is teaching you right now. Would you please comment below and let me know?

Notre Dame Coach learning from failure

I am an avid Alabama Crimson Tide fan.  I graduated from the University of Alabama many years ago.  Since the BCS National Championship was played in Miami this year, I was excited to be able to go to the game.  I was equally excited when the Crimson Tide won the national championship and beat Notre Dame.  I had a very bad experience going to Notre Dame for a game when I was a student at the University of Alabama.  So, it was doubly gratifying to win the game this year.

There was aBCSn interesting article recently on the website, “Fansided,” that was titled, Nick Saban Inspires Brian Kelly to have Notre Dame focus on Special Teams.  The bottom line of the article was that Brian Kelly realized that Alabama had its best players playing each aspect of the game to include special teams.  Many teams put the second stringers on their special teams. Alabama had its starters playing on special teams and Notre Dame did not.  So from the get-go Notre Dame was behind.  Brian Kelly was quoted in the article saying, “I want starters to be part of our special teams units…we’re going to be about it in the spring to really put our best players on special teams.”

Brian Kelly is obviously a life-long learner.  Just because he’s become the head coach of the storied Notre Dame program, he has not stopped learning.  I admire that in anyone.

The writer of Proverbs says, Instruct a wise man, and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man, and he will learn more. Proverbs 9:9  I’ve met a lot of men who thought they knew everything about a subject and weren’t willing to learn something new.  I’ve met them in the military, in the ministry, and in organizations I’ve been a part of.  If a man is not willing to admit he doesn’t know everything in a certain area and become a learner, even when he’s arrived at one of the positions at the pinnacle of his profession, he’s destined to fail again and again.

I don’t think Brian Kelly will make the same mistake twice. My hope is that I’ll never be arrogant enough to think I can’t learn from someone else.  And my hope is that if Alabama meets Notre Dame in another athletic contest that Alabama will win again!

Michael vs LeBron

Wizards v/s Heat 03/30/11It finally happened; the Miami Heat run of 27 straight wins came to an end with a loss to the Chicago Bulls last week.  I from Miami and am a Heat fan, so I was disappointed. But, at the same time glad I got to be a witness to the streak. I’ve seen every game of the streak on TV and I went to the Charlotte Bobcats vs. Miami Heat game on March 24th.  I enjoyed the whole thing.

The great pro-basketball player, Michael Jordan, owns the Bobcat franchise. I don’t know if he was at the game or not. He’s been extremely negative about the Heat player, LeBron James. James is clearly the most talented player in the NBA right now.  I’ve even seen a spate of recent articles saying that James is better than Jordan was.  I kind of get the sense that Jordan is jealous of Lebron and wants to guard his legacy as the greatest basketball player ever.

Jordan recently said that if he were to chose a team with the best current players, he’d choose Kobe Bryant first because he has 5 NBA Championships to LeBron’s one. Of course Kobe has been in the league a whole lot longer, but that didn’t seem to matter.  It was meant to be a slap at James.  I don’t know why he had to do that.  Clearly Jordan was a great player. Most retired athletes are gracious when others come up and do better than they did or break one of their records.  I don’t get that feel from Michael Jordan at all. He seems more bitter or spiteful.  I’m sure he celebrated a little extra when his old team, the Chicago Bull’s, beat LeBron’s Miami Heat team.

But, I loved LeBron James’ response to Jordan’s comment, “It doesn’t matter to me. If you take Kobe one and I go second, it doesn’t matter. I don’t get too involved in what guys say about me or if you take Kobe or if you take LeBron. As long as I’m on the floor and I make plays for my teammates, I don’t do what I do for other people’s approval.” (My italicization)   Here’s the Article.

I think LeBron’s attitude is right. He says he’s not concerned with Michael Jordan.  He plays for his teammates. If I were in his shoes, I’m not sure I would have said the same thing. I would have been devastated by Jordan’s comments.

Criticism is difficult for me. I want people on my side. I want people to like me. Unfortunately, many times I do want their approval. But, for a Christ-follower that should never be our motivation.  Paul said, in Galatians 1:10 Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. In all we do, it should be for the audience of one, God.  That is the only being I need to please. Oh Lord, help me remember that!

So, here’s my question, who are you trying to please?

It was like church

Banner from the Mosquito Heads Band Miami.

Banner from the Mosquito Heads Band Miami.

I was reading an article recently in the Miami Herald. It told about the mayor of our town, “Cutler Bay,” returning to his band the Mosquito Heads for a reunion concert. It has members of the old band share a few quotes and one stuck out to me.  Ron Derrick, the lead guitarist, spoke about when they used to practice at the mayor’s house, “It was like church. We even met sometimes during our anniversaries. We all formed a really tight bond.”

I get what he was saying.  Their time together was of such a quality that they really got to know one another deeply and so they made beautiful music together.  That’s fellowship!  I can see why he called that church.  That is what the church is supposed to do.

You certainly get the feel that such fellowship happened in the early church. Acts 2:42-47 (NLT) 42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. 43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

I’m not sure if many U.S. churches reach that level of intimacy any more. I know it’s difficult to do in large churches because it’s hard to achieve such connection in large groups.  But, if we’re honest, it is difficult to achieve in a society that has lost deep friendships.  We’re so busy. Here in South Florida we go from an air conditioned house to our air conditioned car to our air conditioned work and back again.  We don’t take time to really connect with our neighbors, much less other Christ-followers.  The church worship service is essentially the same; we come, we sit, we sing, we hear, we sing again, we give, we leave, but we don’t really connect with other Christ-followers at an intimate level. But in order to be “like church” we’ve got to get there.

If we achieve such intimacy with one another, something spiritual happens; God shows up in a big way. There’s a deep sense of awe. Miracles happen. People really support one another and even get together on their anniversaries.

Part of being a Christ-follower is a deep connection with other believers.  Are you connected? What are you doing to achieve intimacy with others? How are you seeing God work through your deep fellowship?  Please leave a comment.

A Coffee Shop Legacy

Coffee ShopThe other day I was headed into my favorite coffee shop. I noticed an older gentleman getting out of his car.  He was kind of hunched over and moving very slowly. I noticed him in the store cleaning off the condiment area.  I thought, “man, that’s a nice guy cleaning the table.” Then I noticed him neatly placing a stack of Our Daily Bread devotionals on the condiment table.

I was so heartened and encouraged by what he’d done. Here is an old man in the last years of his life and what is he concerned about? His retirement? Enjoying the leisure life on the golf course? No, he was concerned with the eternal life of others. What an incredible legacy to leave.

I wonder how many people he influenced for God through the kind act of leaving devotionals where they might pick them up.

He reminds me of Caleb, who at 85 was still ready for battle.  He was God’s warrior, no matter what his age.

My bet is that kind of ministry keeps that godly gentleman young.

Psalm 92:14 They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.


I speImagent 22 years in the U.S. Army. Probably my favorite time was being a leader in a cannon battery.  We had 6 cannons and I was in charge of them. We were out doing maneuvers in Fort Campbell, Kentucky in the springtime. We were moving all the cannons to a new place to fire from and went through an area full of mud. We had 4 or 5 vehicles stuck in the mud.

Have you ever been there?  Have you ever been stuck in life?  Not much is happening. Everything is pretty much staying like it has been. Not much new. I certainly have.

It’s time to get a new wind blowing in your life. Song of Songs 4:16 Awake, north wind, and come, south wind! Blow on my garden, that its fragrance may spread abroad.

Ask God for a new breath of his Spirit.  Ask him for a new wind to blow in your life, so that what he does in you may spread around to others.

Oh, we did get the cannons out of the mud. We were able to carry on the mission. With God’s work in your life, you too will get unstuck.